Vietnamese remember martyrs with faith and celebration

COLUMBIA—Hundreds of Vietnamese Catholics celebrated their ancestors who died for the faith at the annual Vietnamese Martyrs’ Celebration held Nov. 18 at St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia.

Franciscan Father David Q. Phan and Father Elbano Muñoz, pastor of St. Anne Church in Rock Hill, concelebrated a Mass in Vietnamese. Cultural hymns were sung by a choir representing several different parishes, and a flower dance was performed by young girls from around the state.

The event started with a procession. Men, women and children sang in Vietnamese and carried banners and flags as they filed into the church, leading a group of women who carried a reliquary containing relics of the martyrs. After Mass, everyone had a chance to come forward to venerate the relics and receive a blessing.

The annual celebration honors 117 Vietnamese who were canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988. They are known as the Martyrs of Tonkin or Annam, and Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions. The actual feast day is Nov. 24.

Catholics faced persecution and death in Vietnam from the 16th through 19th centuries. The 19th century was especially brutal because several ruling dynasties in the area tried to completely wipe out the Church’s presence. Some Vatican officials and historians estimate that up to 300,000 Catholics may have lost their lives in Vietnam during these years.

The Martyrs’ celebration drew people from Columbia, Rock Hill, Greenville, Myrtle Beach, and Charleston, all areas with significant Vietnamese populations. There are an estimated 1,500 Vietnamese Catholics  statewide, according to figures compiled by the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries.

Father Phan has some perspective on the long history of persecution. As a young man, he fled the nation to escape the Communist government and worked for many years to bring his family to the United States.

“We gather here once a year to honor these martyrs because the Vietnamese people have a long history of faith, and we continue to practice our faith,” Father Phan said.

“We need to promote our faith so that our children can also express their belief and build it up for the next generation,” he continued.

“Vietnamese have struggled and continue to struggle even today. Hopefully this celebration will help us to strengthen our faith and live in a way that shows we are disciples of Christ.”